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And….it’s Summertime

May 31, 2013

School is out, kids are home and I’m going on my last trimester (ever!) of pregnancy. The kids have only been out a week but already I’ve remembered that there is only one sure fire way to keep them from killing each other or destroying my house during break: keep ’em moving. I find that when we have a day jam packed full of activities that they have less energy in the afternoons when the destruction and fighting usually sets in. Sadly, my neighborhood doesn’t have a pool (the only thing I don’t love about my ‘hood!) so we have to get creative, and by creative, I mean invite myself and my crew over to my friends’ houses during the week. It usually works out pretty well since the kids all love to play with each other and it’s way better for the moms to have someone to talk to while we’re on lifeguard duty. We all win.

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I mean, look at these faces. They look practically angelic here, don’t they? Well this was taken on the first day of summer when I took them all grocery shopping and they ran around like wild hooligans and at one point I contemplated having the boys paged because they had wandered off and wondered about the ethics of using zip ties to hook Lulu to the shopping cart (NOT buggy, I don’t care how long I’ve lived in the South it is not a buggy. That’s weird.). As I checked out, they piled together in these little chairs and basked in the attention from the elderly check out ladies (Oh aren’t they darling! Beautiful children! Aren’t you so lucky to be having another?!) and James said “Mom, you should really take a picture right now.” So I did. And then Lu promptly announced that she had to pee (we’re potty training hardcore right now, yay…) and so off we ran.

But if I keep them moving, we all win. Play dates, swimming, trips to the Botanical Gardens, a VBS here and there and my sanity remains in tact. I’m only working in the office 2.5 days/week and I can work from home a lot so I try to knock that out in the mornings before all the action starts.

If you’re interested in reading about the half marathon I ran while pregnant, you can click here.  That was my last big run of the pregnancy. At this point (27 weeks, up about 18 lbs), I don’t so much run anymore. While James is at baseball practice, sometimes I feel motivated and get some walk/jogging intervals done but the most I’ve managed is three miles and right now it feels like 10. The Last Baby is due to be evicted around August 23, but I’m hoping she will be done cooking and want to come a little earlier than that.

As much as I love spending extra time with the kiddos during summer (I really do, I’m not lying), there are times where my thin patience mixed with my pregnancy hormones combined with my husband throwing out his back (again) make me really grateful that I can leave the house for 2.5 days a week. Today I made smoothies for the crew. Ben and Lucy spilled his allllllll over the wood floor and then got in a screaming match over whose fault it was. And since I’d been trying to be a nice, good mom and bake homemade muffins to snack on over the next two days (we have baseball all weekend), I was of course in the middle of that when SmoothieGate happened. So I hollered at them, which Lu shrugged off, and Ben ran away with his heart broken. James ran to get the mop bucket, which conveniently was close by since two days prior Lucy had spilled a half gallon of apple juice in the kitchen, resulting in a nasty, sticky mess. I asked James to find Ben and he shrugged and said, “He’s probably in his room, crying,” which made me feel awful because while I was supremely annoyed at having to mop AGAIN, Ben has a lot of feelings and he is easily wounded. Poor guy. But then this is the same kid that thinks it’s hilarious that I’m so “fot…it rhymes with pot because you are so big in the middle” and tells me to “stop talking about pregnant” so I think it’s a draw.

 

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Erin Go Bragh

March 17, 2013

I’ve never eaten corned beef and cabbage. But in my family, St. Patrick’s Day was the holiday that trumped them all. Normal families get together at Christmas or Thanksgiving; decedents of the FitzGerald clan gathered on March 17. My grandmother, whose grandparents on both sides immigrated to Prince Edward Island from County Kerry, Ireland mid-century, after the famine but before Independence, bled green. She flew the flag of Ireland over her home in Allen Park, Michigan, for as long as I can remember. She would gather her Canadian sisters up during March and “the Aunties” would descend into the States for a long awaited visit. Aunt Fran has passed away already, but Aine, Bev, Connie, Deira, Rowena, Roberta, Clare and Mugsy were little pixies of great aunts that would appear on and off through out my life. Out of the nine children, only my grandmother, affectionately called Nan by her grandchildren and Auntie Clare had become Americans. Everyone else stayed in Canada.

St. Patrick’s Day was an oasis in a desert of Catholic Lenten life. No soda, no sugar, no meat on Fridays and generally nothing that tasted good was permissible in my mother’s household during Lent. The more miserable you were, the better your soul was supposed to look. Supposedly. But St. Patrick’s Day was a day to celebrate our heritage and indulge in everything that had been forbidden until Easter. If St. Patrick’s Day happened to fall on a Friday, we could always count on a special dispensation that would allow Catholics to break the rules and eat meat. From the time I can remember, I always looked forward to the celebration at Nan’s house. Some of the Aunties would visit, my aunts and uncles would show up (sometimes all 8 of them!) and the cousins and I would binge on cupcakes with green frosting and soda and dance around until we were sent to the basement to play with toys that had belonged to our parents. Nan would play her Irish records–the Clancy Brothers and more traditional tunes. I grew up knowing the words to “A Jug o’ Punch, “The Traveling Gypsy Rover” and “Finnegan’s Wake.” We would wear our green with pride and watch classics like “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” as we fell asleep. Ireland wasn’t something that we celebrated once a year–it was in our blood. From the Catholicism to the anti-English sentiment, Ireland was in us. We were the product of fighters– a people persecuted by the English for hundreds of years, a people who were forbidden to practice their religion openly so they celebrated Mass in the outdoors, a people who held on to their Gaelic language and roots even when the whole country was anglicized.

But as the years went on, Nan fought and beat cancer. She left her house in Allen Park, her home of 40+ years to live closer to my mother and my Aunt Moira, who could help care for her in her older age. St. Patrick’s Day parties were never the same. They used to be a gathering for all her kids in the old stomping grounds, and neighbors would pop by the reunion and join in on the jolly whiskey fueled revelry. But in Holly, it was different. She no longer prepared the massive amounts of deli trays, sweets and sides and even if people brought a dish to pass, it wasn’t the same. She had been a meticulous hostess, but this was the woman who insisted on ironing sheets and had a spotless house at all times. She still would take a shot of whiskey to celebrate but it was much subdued. Aunt Clare passed away a few years after Nan’s move, and the other Aunties, now in their ’70s and ’80s, were no longer up for the frequent trips to the States.

The family started to grow apart too. Nan’s nine children had scattered across the United States and developed small factions, which battled and created a less than peaceful environment. It wasn’t just them–even among my own sibling set of 11, we grew up, moved away, and some became estranged from our parents, who had divorced. But I hold those memories of my first 16 St. Patrick’s Days in my heart. In college, in a fit of panic brought on by a break up and a major I no longer wanted, I changed my major to English so I could apply to study in Dublin for a summer between my sophomore and junior years. I was accepted. I traveled all over Ireland with fellow Michigan State students and studied literature written in the towns we stayed in. From Dublin, to Sligo, to Galway to the Aran Islands, I buried myself in Irish poets and playwrights and fell in love with Yeats’ romanticism mixed with social commentary on the fight for Irish freedom from the English. I learned to avoid James Joyce, though I was inspired by his naming choice for his daughter (Lucia) and found myself with a Lucia less than 10 years later.

Yesterday I received something from an attorney’s office in Michigan regarding my grandmother’s will. I can’t help but think of the irony of receiving it the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. She passed away June 20, 2012. Losing her was akin to losing a parent to most people, but in my case, I am not close to my parents. I have yet to go back to the town where she passed away. Every time I even think about going to Michigan to visit family, I cry at the thought of being up there and not seeing her. Even though we left home almost six years ago, I called her every March 17th to wish her a happy St. Patrick’s Day. I think of the copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 1916 that hung by her front door. I picture her sitting up straight on her sofa, dainty in her old age but swollen from medications, holding her cane and waiting for visitors and waiting to toast to her people on her favorite day of the year.

Erin Go Bragh. Ireland Forever. Moira FitzGerald Morgan Forever.

 

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Friends and Neighbors

March 12, 2013

I always wanted neighbors. Not the kind of neighbors that you share a wall with in your townhouse or the kind that you ignore, the real neighbors, the ones that you see on sitcoms, where everyone lives within walking distance and your neighbors double as your best friends. Since I ran off and got married in college, I still had the chance to live the dream when we rented a townhouse approximately a four minute walk away from my four closest college friends. Heaven, I tell you. Heaven. Not only was I married (so we could live together! And no one [read: in-laws] could complain about me sleeping over and no one [read: college friends] could complain that I was spending too much time with my boyfriend. Win-win. So for a whopping 10 months of my life, I lived the dream. Endless clothing options, my four best friends and bar companions were right next door and I always had a ride home at 1 AM when I’d ditch my friends and start walking down the road. My husband was a saint.

But then we graduated and everyone moved away, except for Frances because she may or may not have been an illegal alien for a minute so we hid her in our guest room until she could get her paperwork sorted out. I kid, I kid…

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Loves of my life—L to R Kari, Fran, Margo, me, Jane, Kelly

Eventually everything fell into place and we all moved away from our perfect life of accessories, camaraderie and TLC. Don and I bought a house in a “transitional” neighborhood in downtown Lansing and proceeded to ignore our neighbors for a good year or so. We’d wave at Maria who lived next door and had a backyard straight out of Better Homes and Gardens, perfectly manicured and glorious. We’d nod at Pat as she and her middle aged son sat in the backyard and enjoyed a beer on the weekends. They were perfectly nice neighbors. And then we met Bryce and Jen–our son James was a few months old and Jen was due in the fall. We became instant neighbors; we ate together on Sundays, watched Desperate Housewives and later Grey’s Anatomy and we were constantly intertwined. The husbands would play PS3 and Jen and I would hang out in her living room and play with baby James and chat for hours. Aiden and James played together all the time as babies and I would drive Jen crazy by wearing Aiden for hours when I babysat him after she returned to work. He was such a sweet baby.

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James and Aiden

But then it happens. We decided to move to southern FL during my second pregnancy and we left when Bennett was two weeks old. The combination of post partum hormones and saying good bye to my Lansing friends resulted in gut wrenching sobbing as we drove away. For the two years that Jen and I were neighbors, she would invite us along to events with her family and friends. I would introduce her as my neighbor and she would always give me a look and ask “Why don’t you just say that we’re friends? Why do you always call me My Neighbor, Jen?” And this is why: because if you’re out with someone that is your friend and lives by you, you’re not just neighbors. You’re the type of friends that have seen the best and worst of your family and home and still associates with you. You’re the person I call when I spill a pot of boiling water on my stomach and my skin melts off. I’m the person that you call when you absolutely need to borrow baking soda or need an emergency sitter or you leave town and trust us enough to watch your home and your pets.

After our very brief stint in Florida (where we met some great people, none happened to live next door) we moved to Alabama where we again ignored everyone around us aside from the casual wave until a couple years later when we bought a house. And now we have them: neighbors. Yes, there some acquaintances and some of them we have never exchanged words with, but there are also people who live by us (across the street!) who have seen me without a bra, in my PJs and chugging a Coke at 7 AM when the bus rolled by who still call me a friend. People that have walked into my house on the absolute worst day, when the sink smelled like a dead animal and Lucy has emptied out every drawer and cabinet and I was too over it to clean up and yet she doesn’t bat an eye. I’ve shown up at her door with a beer on the day my husband bought a camper and didn’t leave for a few hours. We’ve both had melt downs in our driveways and sometimes, before we were both pregnant and the husbands were gone for the night, we’ve let the kids play at my house until they passed out from exhaustion while we leaf through People Magazine and drink tequila (although she may have had wine that night). Anyways, the point is that is it absolutely amazing to have neighbors that become friends.

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Lucy and Sophie, neighbors

Except when it isn’t. Life happens. People get divorced, friendships splinter and crack and ugly details emerge and suddenly sometimes people that you knew in such an intimate way become strangers. It happened to other Lansing neighbors after our move South and it has happened here. It is surreal to an extent and unless someone physically moves away and you don’t see them anymore (such as us with our Lansing friends), you are constantly reminded of the friendship that you once had with people that live within walking distance.

So until Don is recruited to be a CEO at Ford, and I get hired to teach Literature (full time of course, even if I only have a MA) at a Big Michigan College, I probably won’t get to live next door to Jane, my oldest friend, who ironically, has never been my roommate and was only my neighbor for a short time. That means that Rachel (and Beth, Katie and Emily) are stuck with me in this neighborhood that may give old Wisteria Lane a run for its money.

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I mean, really–won’t you be our neigbors?

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

February 5, 2013

He was always a smart baby. Quick to crawl (6 mos), climb stairs (6 mos 3 days),  walk and hurl himself out of his crib (15 mos).  He would pick out his cloth diaper by color at 18 months old. But it didn’t strike me as odd behavior, even after a lifetime of playing big sister and several years as a nanny. James was my first child and I didn’t assume he was atypical, if anything, I thought other kids were just a little slower.

By age two he had potty trained verbally. He said he didn’t like a mess in his diapers. I said to use the toilet. And aside from over nights, he did. We had welcomed his little brother and rather than dote on the baby as I hoped he would, he dismissed him with a wave of his hand for six months saying, “That’s Ben. He’s cute.” James learned his upper and lower case alphabet by age three. He would ‘read’ to us by listing letters he saw on signs and billboards and asking “What’s that spell?” This was his mantra for a year. Traffic lights became his obsession and he would shriek directions from the back seat as we drove through southern Florida and then later in northern Alabama after we relocated for work. “It’s red, red means stop. Are you stopping?! OK, it is green you may go. Don’t turn right on red!!! Yellow means slow. SLOW DOWN mom!” His Aunt Jane recorded his diatribe on her phone and we listened to it for years, with each time ending in tears of laughter. At this time he also had developed an aversion to what he called “lousy things” or hand driers in public bathrooms. Jane once took him into a rest stop with a “whole wall of lousy things” and he almost had a panic attack.

But once he enrolled in pre-school, it was a little better. He was excited to be able to choose his work, he liked his teachers and the montessori-esque environment was perfect for his active mind. I reminded him to use his powers for good on a daily basis.

ImageHe still insisted on using them for plots that included catapulting his brother off the recliner rocker and making a head shaped hole in the wall or arguing with me over everything from semantics to the way I cut his sandwich. His younger brother is still quieter, more sensitive and does things at his own pace. James’ mind moves faster than most kids his age. He has finally stopped hyperventilating if the alphabet magnets are not in order (ages 3.5-5). He has stopped arranging his toys cars by brand (ages 3-5).

We decided to send him to public school rather than the montessori-style school that he attended for pre-k. He went into kindergarten being able to read. After I begged the school to test him, they finally did even though I had been told that it wasn’t standard procedure and they wouldn’t send him to a reading specialist. He was five. He had a reading proficiency of a child in the seventh month of first grade (1.7). He word recognition level was that of a fourth grader. We were lucky that we had a kindergarten teacher who recognized that James was beyond his peers academically and she allowed him free reign in the library and encouraged him to read whatever he wanted. In the beginning of first grade, he cried himself to sleep for several weeks. James had been so excited to learn new things and be challenged that he had built it up in his mind and then was disappointed when it was mostly a review of kindergarten. This led up to the pig incident: the teacher had been reading them Charlotte’s Web (which I read to him at 3.5, because he could follow plot summary, developments, characters and content at that age). And then she asked them to draw a picture of a pig. But to James, she was asking for a real picture of a live animal, not something a six year old was capable of drawing. He panicked. He told her he couldn’t draw a pig. He wouldn’t. She tried to help him and drew a pink circle with pig features, causing him to erupt with “That’s not even a pig! That’s a pink circle! I don’t know how to draw a pig and you haven’t taught me!” Which then resulted in him moving his behavior clip and getting a note send home regarding his defiant and rude attitude.

I know he needs to learn to control his emotions more. I get it. He needs to show more respect to adults. But the problem here is that most of the time they aren’t respecting him. He would get 100% on his spelling pre-test on Monday. Then he would spend 4 more days reviewing those same words to test again on Friday. This is a kid who could read and spell words three grades above the current level. No wonder he would act out and misbehave. If someone asked me to repeat the same task over and over and I had already perfected it the first time, I would feel down right stabby too. He ended up meeting with a psychologist for his anxiety and perfectionism. She said he “failed out” of his IQ test at 120. He had told her it was boring and he didn’t think she could really measure his brain by it anyway. $500 later and we learned that he had anxiety, he was smart and stubborn. Awesome.

We ended first grade on a shaky note. His teacher refused to let him read books above a third grade level; she said due to content. I countered that I have a Master’s degree in Literature; he’s good. If anyone is qualified to go over content, character development, language and imagery of children’s lit to this kid, I’m going to say it’s me.

Second grade has been OK. We did have the angry chicken incident a few weeks ago, but for the most part he is content with his teacher and she has no qualms about what he reads and she will let him read when he finishes his work early. On the day of the angry chicken, he had lost his quarter for the day from the class bank due to poor behavior (which is mostly talking). So while he took his spelling test he managed to scratch out a note for his teacher.

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An angry chicken giving the bird? He claims no.

He apologized to his teacher and he knows he is not to use the word ‘sucks’ when referring to school anymore. And everyday I wonder if we are doing right by him by sending him to public school. I am not of the home school variety but I almost think that would be best for him. I completely understand that teachers have to teach to the middle; but kids that struggle get extra help. What about the kids that excel? Where is their resource teacher? Our school offers a Gifted and Talented program for third grade and higher, but apparently James didn’t make the cut. (It’s partly based on creativity and that’s not his thing and not mine either if it involves anything more than words.)

So what do we do? Extra ‘work’ at home doesn’t seem fair considering how much homework he has each night. Pulling him out of school is a punishment for him because he likes the socializing and it would infringe on my ability to work. Praying that he gets teachers that recognize his talents and work with him doesn’t seem to work very well. But something has got to give: he is bored. He misbehaves. I don’t want him labeled as a trouble maker or a “bad kid” because he’s been forced to sit through material that he already knew. I don’t want school to become a chore and I don’t want him to lose his edge but I can see that happening over time. What’s the point of being special if everyone just expects you to be average?

Musings on my first marathon

December 10, 2012

I woke up Saturday morning trying to convince myself that I was coming down with the flu. Did that feel like a pulled muscle in my quad? Surely I was not going to try to run 26.2 miles in an hour or so. As I formulated excuses, my husband prepped for the day. He had packed a bag of energy chews, an extra shirt if I was too hot or too cold and a couple PowerAdes. As we pulled up to the start, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach turn into little pterodactyls. Before I could start lying about not feeling well, Don stopped the car, wished me luck, pushed me out and drove away. I had never run a marathon so I started at the very back of the pack and stretched.

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Some of the awesome spectators that kept us going during the race.

I ambled along for a mile or so until I realized I really had to go to the bathroom. I am a nervous pee-er. And since I’ve had  three kids (and three c/sections), I have no capability to hold it. I ducked into the first port-a-potty on the road around mile 2. However, as I popped out and surprised a very nice construction worker, I realized that they were not meant for runners at all. I yelled a thanks to the site and rejoined the runners and some of them laughed. I chatted up a nice lady from Atlanta who had joined in for a training run while her husband tried to qualify for Boston. She stayed with me for a couple miles until she had to turn around to head back. Then some random guy from Nashville ran with me on and off for a couple miles; he claimed he wanted to listen to my music. It is against race rules to wear headphones but they did not say anything about looping headphones through your bra and listening to music that way. Nashville guy started to die about mile 8 and I was alone for a minute. Then Big Red picked me up. Big Red is from Birmingham and this was his 7th marathon so I figured he would be a good coach. We managed to clip along to the half way point (13.1 miles, 2:17) and then it went down hill. Don waited at mile 15 (2 :45) to wave at us and hand me a package of shot blocks. At this point it is important to mention that my hair was in a ponytail but shortly after, I had to stop and fix it into a bun. It’s the longest it has been since high school (!) and it was in its natural state of thick, wavy curls. (A few weeks ago at work, an ad girl asked “Does your hair just look like that?” and I think she meant it as a compliment because she added something about ‘beachy waves’ before she walked away. Or maybe not.) I could feel it expanding into a giant puff ball due to all the sweat so I asked Big Red if we could take a walk break. Then Big Red proceeded to implement walk breaks about 1/4 mile. At this point I was so tired that I didn’t want to argue, plus he’d ran 7 marathons. Surely he knew something that I didn’t. Alas by the time we got to mile 20, I could see the light and told Big Red that if we hauled ass we’d be done in an hour. “Or two,” he replied. “I’m a realist and this is starting to hurt like hell.” Ooo-kay.

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This is what mile 22 feels like–ow.

Big Red and I picked up some guys around mile 20 and we stayed with them for a while. One was about 45 and built like a runner, the other looked a little like Santa Claus and carried a small horn which he honked at people through out the run. They pretended to be impressed that this was my first marathon and that I didn’t seem to be dying. However, during our walk breaks, Big Red had dropped it to a stroll whereas I wanted to speed walk. It actually felt better to speed walk at the time, since my hips and knees were starting to lock up. I stopped for a bathroom break at mile 23 and decided that I was going to do my best to run the last 5k of the race. I knew my time wasn’t going to be great, or even going to be good, but I wanted to finish strong. I panicked when I looked at my watch and saw that I was 4 hours, 35 minutes into the race. I had hoped to finish around that time. Big Red had caught up to a member of his racing team from Birmingham who I will call the Man in Black. They were content to hobble to the end together. I said peace out and cranked up some Taylor Swift and headed for the finish. “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22. Everything will be alright, if you keep me next to you. You don’t know about me, I bet you want to. Everything will be alright if we keep dancing like we’re 22 (oooh oooooh),” sang I to the few remaining spectators. Here’s a weird thing: I never really felt out of breath during the race. I could talk the same during a 10/min mile as I could during our sad little mostly walking miles (14/min mile). It was my legs that started to give out.

But. The last 3 miles actually passed pretty quickly. I was shocked at the amount of people walking it in. I passed several people on the last 5K that were walking and a few of them cheered me on. Most of them looked like they were just over the marathon. One time a spectator yelled that a “fast girl” (HA) was coming up on a group and one of the girls said “Let her have it.” As soon as I saw the 26 mile marker, I had tears in my eyes. I started to cry during the last .2 of the race and it wasn’t because I was sore or because I had a giant scab on my boob from my giant sports bra suffocating my giant boobs for 5 hours. I cried for that .2 because I’d accomplished something crazy and because I was relieved it was over. And don’t tell him (he doesn’t read my blogs, he has to live with me so that’s clearly enough T time), but I cried because my husband was standing at the finish and I knew he was proud of me. He was my only fan that day. Uncle Garrett kept the kids at home so Don was able to drive to 3 different points to cheer me on. I love him.

Overall, it was definitely an experience. I never thought I would run a marathon. But then I ran a half a few months after my daughter was born and it got me thinking about it. After all, I managed to train for and complete 13.1 miles five months after a c-section but because I wanted to see if I could do it. I’ve heard people say to take your half time, double it and add 10 mins for a full time. My first two half marathons were run in 2:30. Double that and add 10? Almost exactly my first marathon. Spooky. But I ran a 2:09 a few weeks ago with a friend that pushed me, so maybe next time I can be closer to the 4:30 mark now that I know A) I won’t die B) how to pace myself C) not to stick with someone slower than me D) my iPod only last about 4 hours, 45 mins E) my Garmin will stay charged the entire race F) use more body glide. Also, I totally should have worn a “Marathon Virgin” sign.

PS How does this relate to a budget? Well. It was in my hometown, it was cheap and we didn’t have to pay any travel expenses.

PPS I hope Big Red finished strong. I didn’t see him or Santa cross the line but by then I was pretty delusional.

PPPS My 7 year old is watching me write this. “Five hours?” he just asked me, “Were you in last place? I don’t see anyone behind you.”

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You can’t see it, but I’m totally crying here.

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26.2 miles? Me? I’ve looked worse after a 5k!

The Babysitter’s Club

December 1, 2012

The year is 2000 and it’s December. I have a job at a school as an aide through the work study program but since I can only work between 7:30 AM and 3:30 PM, it is hard to work enough hours to pay my bills since I’m a full time sophomore student at Michigan State. I live in what is affectionately referred to as the student ghetto, or Cedar Village. The city of East Lansing tries to get it condemned every few years and refers to it as ‘blighted,’ but if what they mean is cheap rent considering it’s within walking distance to all my classes and close to the bars, then call it blighted all you want. But I’m a student and I’m poor. I’ve picked up a seasonal job at the GAP at the mall but I think they hate me and there’s no way they will keep me on after holiday. It may be because I am the world’s worst retail employee ever–I don’t like to open, I don’t like to do the super late shift and stock shelves from 11 PM until 3 AM and I generally don’t like speaking to the customers. And I can’t really board fold to save my life. But I’ve made a lot of friends and we have fun together, except there is this one senior guy named Don that keeps asking me out even though I have a boyfriend. He suspects that the boyfriend and I are on the outs and I suspect that my boyfriend doesn’t really like me that much anymore, but the only date Don and I go on is to the soft pretzel vendor during our break. But I need a new job for the next semester and I’m running out of ideas. I can’t wait tables, I don’t want to do retail but I need something on nights and weekends. My neighbor Jen tells me to just babysit for cash and I think she’s crazy–but she explains that she watches the kids after school, she has time to do her homework, she can eat meals there and she gets paid well. Sign me up! I open up the State News and start going through the ads. I leave a few messages and I’m not planning on actually speaking with anyone until a lady named Melanie answers the phone.

“Um hi,” I stammer, “I’m calling in regard to the babysitting job in the State News? May I speak to Melanie?”

“This is she,” Melanie replies briskly. “Tell me a little about yourself.”

I quickly explain that I’m a sophomore education student at MSU, I’m the oldest of 11 siblings and before I can say much else she schedules an interview for me in two days.

And that was that. I go to the interview in my nice leather boots and best GAP apparel only to be stuck outside playing in the snow with three small children. I survive three hours of outdoor play, snack and dinner prep and I’m hired. Their kitchen is larger than my apartment. Their neighbors include people with the last name Izzo and Sabin (you may have heard of them?) and before I know it, I’m in deep. I stick around for the next five years, until I have my own son in 2005.

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Ian, age 5. This was a sign of love.

In the same way that time with my own children has flown by in an instant, all those years with my nanny kids passed by too quickly. When I met them, they were 7, 4 and 1 year old. Today they are 19, 16 and 13. When I see them I remember how much fun we had together and all our adventures, but it is just bits and pieces. We talk about the vacations, the times when I stayed with them for a week when their parents went out of town and we all slept together in a king bed. We talk about how I couldn’t cook and we ordered take out and stopped for Slurpees after school at 7/11. We talk about how crazy the boys were and how I let Ian dive from the 7.5m platform when he was 5 and how I sometimes took Christopher to class. Monell and I laugh about how when I was 19 I was the cool one, and now that she’s 19, I look to her for fashion advice. I remember that the days were busy and long, that the clean up was never ending and that sometimes I could kill them. But I also remember how it felt to snuggle up with them on the couch, and how thrilled they were James was born and how much I’ve missed watching them grow up over the years. (We left the state in 2007.)

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Monell and I before a wedding in 2001.

Working as a nanny through college saved my butt in so many ways. I made decent money, I always had referrals to other families (like the K family with three small boys, whom I adored) and they kept me busy. They supported me when I married that Don guy the following December; Melanie even paid for poinsettias that graced each table at the reception.  And most importantly, they prepared me for motherhood over and over. By the time I had my own three children, I’d perfected child wrangling. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I pick my battles. I know that in the end, snuggling on the couch in a pile is more important than anything else. That is what the kids remember the most–they remember that I loved them. And that I bought them contraband Lucky Charms when their mom went out of town.

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Chris, my little partner in crime for four years.

The Story of my Feet

November 28, 2012

I was not born to be a runner. I am not tall, I am not lean and I am not very fast. People consider me short and I dare say that my legs would agree. Sometimes I’m surprised when I realize that most people tower over me when in my mind, we were pretty close to the same height. Maybe my personality makes me feel a little larger than life, and I am cool with that.

I didn’t participate in anything as a kid. I never was a Girl Scout. I tried Brownies for about 2 seconds but after a dumb nature hike where the guide (a mom of one of the kids) told us to keep a look out for Indians I refused to go back. (Even at the tender age of 7 I wasn’t an idiot. I knew there were no Native Americans hiding in the woods behind her house in DOWNRIVER Detroit. Seriously.) I never danced, tried gymnastics or played soccer. In middle school I made the cheerleading team for the Brownstown Knights (I think?) and the Fenton Tigers after we moved an hour north. The only reason that I made either squad was because A) my socialized friends taught me cheers every day during recess during 5th and 6th grade B) my friends taught me gymnastics and C) I weighed about 90 lbs so I was tiny and could jump like a flippin’ grasshopper. But despite my moderate success as a teen cheerleader, I didn’t consider myself athletic.

But then all my friends joined the track team in the spring of 1996. And like any good follower, I wanted to be with them so I begged my mom to let me join up too. Track was a social event for me and I wasn’t very good at sprints so I spent most of the time flirting with older boys and cheering on my friends. But then one day my coach needed to find a freshman to run a relay that consisted of a 400m, 800m, 400m and 800m and she tapped me to run an 800m (half mile for those of you who could care less about the metric system). And shockingly, I was GOOD. Not going-to-states-as-a-freshman-good as my teammate Dru, but good enough to be part of the 3200m relay team for four years and place consistently in the 800m and 1600m run.  And then I joined cross country for three seasons, where it turns out, I was pretty good at that too. Even with feet covered in blisters, callouses and moleskin, I felt like a bad ass. I won’t lie. There is something powerful in being able to run a 6 minute mile or in our case, a few just over 7 minute miles.

But then I went to college and didn’t run for a while. I didn’t run a single 5k. I got married. I had a baby and I started to run again. I would wait at the door with my shoes laced and as soon as my husband pulled into the driveway, I would yell “Baby’s in the swing!” and literally run out the door. It was my 30 minute break from my life as a young mother. Motherhood is amazing but it is also isolating, repetitive and boring at time. Running gave me a chance to think without a small person interrupting, it forced me to use muscles that had become lazy and it gave me back a small part of the person that I had been in high school. A mother version of  a bad ass. But then I had another baby, and another a few years later and running never disappeared but it wasn’t the naughty mistress that I had remembered her as. Running after my third child was experimental. Five weeks after my c-section, I attempted to jog two miles. And I did it in 22 minutes. It was brutal and I struggled to breathe for every second of those 22 minutes but I did it.

And then I signed up for a half marathon that would be five months after her birth. I ran it. I haven’t stopped since. I’ve ran four more half marathons, more 5ks that I remember and in 10 days, I will attempt to complete my first full marathon. As much as I thought I was a bad ass as a speedy little high schooler, the thought of completing 26 mother loving miles will make me even more bad ass-ier. I have had three kids, all by c-section. My body has been able to create three beautiful, wild and hilarious little humans and it has ran hundreds of miles. My feet are ugly. The second toe’s nail on my right foot turned purple after my last half marathon a couple weeks ago. I don’t get pedicures anymore. But I run because it pushes me to harder, better, faster, stronger, to quote Kanye West. And to make me feel a little bit like a bad ass.

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My friend Kara and I right before a race during our junior year–I’m dating this by my amazing thick bangs and her awesome scrunchy.